Benefit fraud is falsely claiming state help or money from the British government. It has been the subject of much media frenzy.
In recent years, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched an aggressive campaign against benefit frauds and thefts using visual media using “No ifs, No buts” as a slogan to raise awareness.
If you are worried about being prosecuted for Benefit Fraud after reading this article and you would like to discuss your concerns in complete confidentiality please contact your nearest London office to arrange an appointment.
Prosecution may typically occur using the Social Security Administration Act 1992 or Theft Act 1978. New offences have recently been introduced and are becoming more common in relation to the Fraud Act 2006.
Types of fraud that are committed are where people claim they are living alone, but are living with other people and do not give information on them. Claims are also made from empty properties, or benefit claimants have not provided full details of all their income or capital.
However persons who wish to supply the DWP with material evidence of a fraud must do so at their own expense, e.g. the cost of postage.
Any suspicion of fraud can be sent to the DWP as well as one’s local council. The DWP as well as many of the UK’s councils have dedicated websites where information can be submitted to be investigated.
It is not only the DWP that investigate benefit fraud but also all UK councils investigate Housing and Council Tax Benefit Fraud which is often linked to most DWP frauds. Since the introduction of the Welfare Reform Act 2007, councils can now independently investigate a number of Social Security benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions policy on unfounded allegations is, (quote): “Referrals will be checked against these records to ensure that where previous investigations found that the allegation was unfounded no action will be taken unless there is significant new information or a different allegation”.
All allegations are risk assessed based on the level of information and the detail contained in the allegation and are also assessed using the National Intelligence Model. The more information that is supplied then the greater the chance of the case being accepted for investigation and also the greater the chance of the “fraudster being caught”.
When someone is caught for benefit fraud there are three ‘sanctions’ that the DWP or the Council can apply.
These are ‘simple’ cautions, administrative penalties, and prosecution.
The main criteria for the offering of a caution is that the person has to have admitted that they have committed an offence.
Other than this criteria, there is no statutory framework regulating which sanction is used in disposal of a case. This is a matter of policy for the relevant authority. The Department for Work and Pensions has a national policy, each Local Authority will have its own policy which will set different criteria and financial guidelines.
The Administrative Penalty is effectively a fine and is set at 30% of the total amount overpaid to them. This figure is set in Section 115 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992, there is no negotiation on this. The suspect does not have to admit their guilt to be offered an Administrative Penalty, however it should only be offered by the Department for Work and Pensions, or the Local Authority if they believe there is sufficient evidence for court proceedings to be considered if the offer is refused.
A Prosecution is brought when the value of the overpaid benefit is so great, or the period of the fraud is lengthy, or the person may have been in a position of trust or the fraud was very blatant. Any prosecution brought by the Department for Work and Pensions, or a Local Authority should have been subject to the Public Interest Test as set out in the Code of Practice for Crown Prosecutors.
Defendants convicted of a criminal offence can often be punished with a prison sentence.
Therefore, it is highly advisable and in your own interests that you receive legal advice from a solicitor who is an expert in criminal law if you have been charged with a criminal offence relating to Benefit Fraud – i.e. speak to a specialist criminal solicitor.
Specialist criminal solicitors are very experienced in successfully defending criminal prosecutions because criminal law is their sole activity. They are likely to represent you better than a solicitor who does not have that experience or expertise – i.e. a general practice solicitor whose day-to-day activities might include family law and housing law as well as some criminal law.
Arrange an appointment to discuss your concerns with a specialist criminal solicitor at the earliest opportunity by contacting your nearest London office.
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